News from the Conservation Chair June 2016


By Whitey Markle

BEAR HUNTING

The Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) will vote on yet another Bear hunt across Florida next winter. The Commission will vote on whether to conduct another slaughter on June 22 in Apalachicola. The meeting begins at 8:30 AM and the Bear Hunt is on the agenda under item 5B. The meeting will be held at the Franklin County School Gymnasium, 1250 Highway 98 Eastpoint, Florida 32328.

If the Commission does indeed conduct another hunt they should consider three issues in their deliberations:

 The lack of complete and up to date science regarding the status of the Florida bear population: For the second year the Commission is relying on incomplete Bear population data.

 The value of preserving an iconic Florida large mammal species: Doesn’t it seem like the Wildlife Conservation Commission should be considering the value of these creatures in their natural habitat rather than their value dead on the wall or the floor?

 The subterfuge of the bear hunt as a way to clear Florida’s wildlife out of the way of development: This is the issue in a nutshell. The governor and the legislature seem to be bent on growth at all costs. We know from recent history that wildlife protection interferes with their plans to develop as much as possible – more development in the undeveloped areas (habitat), more new highways, and the services and pollution that come with population growth. Florida is now the third largest state in the union. The two biggest states are California and Texas which are far larger than Florida. So what we have is a thicker density of population than the two biggest states.  State parks and conservation land are envied by the development people and are being transformed, little-by-little, into hunting grounds.

Inappropriate location of hunting Bears: The whole argument we get from FWC is that the hunt(s) deplete the Bear population that is harming humans. So of all the places they hold the hunt(s) is out in the middle of nowhere where no people live (Apalachicola National Forest being the largest hunt area). The result is that the Bears who aren’t  bothering humans are the ones being slaughtered and the Bears who have “harmed” humans are not being hunted, so they continue to bother humans and therefore justify killing more. Makes no sense.

We hope to see as many people as possible in Apalachicola on June 22 to speak out against the slaughter.

 

PHOSPHATE MINING IN BRADFORD AND UNION COUNTIES

A crowd of around 100 people turned out for the Bradford County Board of County Commissioners meeting on May 19th.   I counted 28 people who spoke against the mining application permit by HSP Corporation being considered. The application has several legal issues in its process and content and the fee for the application was paid after the deadline date. The Bradford BOCC voted 3/2 to not withdraw the permit application. I counted 3 persons who spoke in favor of the proposed mining operation. Alachua County Commissioner Ken Cornell spoke to the Bradford Commission and reiterated Alachua County’s willingness to assist in data management and advice (since the Bradford Commission has admitted freely that they are not capable of handling a mining permit application due to lack of capable staff).  We came away feeling the Bradford Commission is willing to collaborate with Alachua County’s environmental staff and with the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council.

 

OCKLAWAHA RESTORATION MOVES FORWARD?

The SSJ EXCOM voted unanimously to join with the Florida Defenders of the Environment in sending a Notice of Intent to sue if the Florida Department of Environmental Protection doesn’t move forward with the restoration of the Ocklawaha River.

Last month the St. Johns River Water Management District published a document that cleared the way for restoration permitting from that agency, which trigger a reverberation of actions from environmental groups and governmental agencies. We certainly hope to see the legislature and the state agencies move forward with the Ocklawaha restoration.

 

YOHO DOES A YOYO

US congressman Ted Yoho showed up for a hike around the area of the Suwannee River near Live Oak  where Sabal Trail is proposing to put a natural gas pipeline. The good congressman brought the press and showed concern for the old river, swore no to fracking in Florida, and promised to fight against the pipeline…..until he got back home and wrote back saying he couldn’t help us with the Sabal Trail issue.

 

ORANGE LAKE HABITAT MANAGEMENT

Over the past two years the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has conducted some 6 meetings and workshops to develop a Habitat Management Plan (HMP) for Orange Lake. Many presentations were given of the two year course, by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, University of Florida scientists from various disciplines including the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) St. Johns River Water Management District, and the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT).  A year ago FWC hired Normandeau and Associates who conducted the meetings’ formats until the end of the process.

Historically speaking, Orange Lake has been a unique geographical area. Unlike Newnan’s, Wauberg, and Lochloosa, Orange Lake is mostly Karst geology (underlain with limestone and vulnerable to sinkhole development).  The surface water that drains from the watersheds around the lakes in the basin, as well as the direct rainfall around and on the lake itself, drains into the sinkholes and into the aquifer and some of the water drains out of the Southeast end of Orange Lake to Orange Creek and eventually to the Ocklawaha River near Orange Springs.

Until the late 1940’s Orange Lake was able to drain naturally down Orange Creek, but the drainage pattern was permanently interrupted by a series of weirs and dam-like structures at the foot of the lake in order to allow for vegetable farming in the floodplain Southeast of the lake. Additionally, in 1962, U.S. 301 was built across the Southeast end of the lake. Unfortunately for the lake, a roadbed of fill dirt was dumped across the floodplain and a box culvert was placed in the middle to allow for drainage. In 1964, the Alachua County Recreation and Water Conservation Authority placed a concrete weir across the remaining drainage “to control flood water”.  The weir still remains there, but the Authority was dissolved many years ago, so authority over the decrepit weir, which is literally coming apart at the seams, is now under FDOT since the powers-that-be say the weir is attached to the U.S. 301 box culvert.  

Although I spoke to the crowd at the first meeting of the HMP process and stated that the ultimate solution to the pitiful condition of Orange Lake is to remove the weir, remove the berm under U.S. 301, build a causeway bridge over the lake’s Southeast end, and improve the CSX railroad trestle , FDEP and FWC plowed forward with the same-old-same-old management that they have done over the years.

Of utmost importance to us few environmentalists in attendance was the issue of herbicide spraying for exotic weed control. Although FWC says that spraying the weeds is the cheapest means of control (vs. harvesting, chopping, dredging, etc.), we know the harm in herbicide spraying, especially the harm to the aquifer.  

My speech regarding the causeway was immediately poo-pooed by the state representatives.  “We will discuss the issue with Task Force” (which is made up of the bosses of all these mostly-dedicated workers). Of course, the report back is that the Task Force thought it is a bad idea.  That’s it!

So we came to the 6th and “Final” gathering where they, once again, reiterated the fact that they would continue to use herbicides “as needed”.  Later that meeting they sent instructions to each “stakeholder” to send in comments on the “Final” Plan, along with attachments of the Final Habitat Management Plan”. The attachments were PDF files that a person with 3.0 magnifying reading glasses couldn’t read. One of my comments (first) was that nobody could read the stakeholders’ comments.  The few I could read with my 3.o readers were extremely critical of the herbicide program proposed, which I stated in my comments.  So far, no reply from the Orange Lake Habitat Management folks at FWC. Stay tuned.